The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is the emergency stockpile of petroleum for the United States, maintained by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), and it is the largest publicly known emergency supply in the world – or at least is supposed to be.
It is stored in underground tanks in Louisiana and Texas, which have a capacity of 714 million barrels. It was established in 1976 to mitigate future supply disruptions that began as part of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo.
SPR – Down to Nothing?
With a potential major war looming in the Middle East, there is now concern that the Biden administration hasn’t properly maintained the reserve. Last year, President Joe Biden released more than 40 percent of the SPR to help limit rising fuel prices after Russia invaded Ukraine, and that has left the stockpiles at the lowest levels since the 1980s.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been increasingly critical of the White House’s handling of the SPR and warned that the President has left the U.S. vulnerable to a disruption of global oil supplies.
“That’s Joe Biden’s fault for trying to lower the price of gas before the election,” House Natural Resources Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas) told Politico.com.
Likewise, former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that the SPR “is down to nothing.”
That was a bit of hyperbole, however, as the SPR is still at about 351 million barrels. Yet, that is only equivalent to 56 days of total U.S. oil imports last year – and well below the peak of 727 million barrels held by the Obama administration. It is important to note that private companies in the United States were storing as much as 424 million barrels as of the beginning of his month.
The White House Defends the Handling of the SPR
Even as there is a threat that the SPR is at levels not seen in four decades, the administration has defended the decision to release supplies onto the market last year – and it maintains that there is still enough to protect the nation’s strategic needs.
“I am not worried about the reserve levels at all,” DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm told a House committee in September, adding, “It is the largest strategic reserve in the world.”
The U.S. is the World’s Largest Oil Producer
As Politico.com also reported, the U.S. is far from the “energy beggar” it had been in 1973 – when the Yom Kippur War involving Israel and a coalition of Arab nations including Syria and Egypt prompted the oil embargo against the United States.
That sent prices spiraling.
Fast forward to 2023, and the United States is actually the world’s largest oil producer – and it currently exports more crude and petroleum than it imports. Current output is at record highs and climbing, even as demand has flattened.
Look For Higher Prices
The bigger issue now isn’t that the United States would lack the fuel in a crisis, but that Biden’s options to release fuel onto the market could be far more limited if prices spike due to a widening war in the Middle East.
Should Iran become involved in the war – a situation that seems increasingly likely – the Islamic Republic may be forced to curtail its production of three million barrels per day. Additionally, the Biden administration may tighten enforcement of sanctions that could further limit worldwide production.
Consumers should be prepared to pay more at the pump and expect higher bills to heat their homes this winter.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.